This collector’s BMW-dominated collection is driven by a love of angular design and a strong family connection.
"Appearances can be deceptive", the saying goes. It's certainly the case when I arrive at this collector’s premises in Midrand, just north of Johannesburg. It looks like an automotive graveyard! There are several British classics – all of which look well past the point of recovery – as well as a number of cars that are earmarked for restoration, a few military vehicles and even a classic Winnebago.
This smorgasbord is the result of his passion for motoring, but also represents the dedication of his father, who built the main barn 23 years ago and restores cars for clients. He directs me inside. It houses a wide variety of cars but it’s immediately obvious that there’s a common theme linking most of them. “I usually prefer luxurious saloons, especially when they are square-ish in their design. Rolls-Royces and BMWs are my favourites – I’ve worked for both companies – but overall, I collect cars that have sentimental value, cars I have fond memories of, or cars that friends and family have owned in the past.
“I also have a soft spot for uniquely South African cars. With the political sanctions of the '70s and '80s, the local motoring industry was involved in some really interesting projects and I’m fascinated by the finer details on these cars, from the different badges to the interior trimmings that were used.”
One of his earliest motoring memories was packing a Volkswagen Kombi – a vehicle that he still owns – before he and his family headed 300km north-east to his grandmother in Tzaneen. Could it be that these early memories laid the foundation of his appreciation of squarely-designed cars?
“My grandfather always drove BMWs. He first had a BMW motorcycle and then he owned a 2000, then a 2500 followed by a 733i, which I currently still own.” The shed contains several project cars and family-owned cars, many of which are used regularly.
1969 BMW 2000 Cheetah
We walk over to a nondescript BMW family saloon, a 1969 BMW 2000 Cheetah, but it grabs my attention because I’ve never seen one before. He is eager to explain the significance of this car, “BMW started manufacturing in South Africa in 1968 with the 2000 SA. These cars were sent to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in knocked-down form to be assembled. I bought this one 10 years ago and it is totally original. The previous owner collected the car from Zimbabwe and drove it the 1000 km back to his home in Witbank. Interestingly, I still have the border-crossing papers.
“The only BMW badge on this car is the one on the front grille, which is not a BMW kidney grille but a Hans Glas GmbH item.” He doesn’t only appreciate these early cars because they are BMWs, but also because of the historical context.
1975 BMW 2004 saloon
His history lesson continues as we approach the 2004 saloon. “As BMW started to run out of the CKD kits to build the 2000 Cheetah here, BMW Germany took control of BMW South Africa and started production of the 2004. It was essentially the same car, but it was given traditional BMW frontal styling and proprietary rear lights.
“This is also a totally original car. I haven’t touched the paintwork or the interior, and it has only 72 000km on the odo. It was part of BMW South Africa’s museum when I was the manager there. When I left several of the cars were sold. I eventually found the owner and bought it. I do appreciate originality. People have their own ideas about the condition of cars, but a car is only original once in its lifetime. There is no reason to strip and paint this car, it is not necessary. I drive it and I enjoy it; that’s what it’s about.”
1972 BMW 2000 saloon
“My grandfather’s first BMW was a 2000 like this one. I couldn’t find a similar model in South Africa, so I sourced and imported this car over a decade ago from the Netherlands. Its engine is currently at an engineering workshop being overhauled. At one stage I drove it more regularly than any other car in the collection, simply because it is such an easy and enjoyable car to drive.”
1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom III
We move towards the back corner of the shed, and he moves some parts out of the way. “This is my Rolls-Royce Phantom III. It is totally original, totally complete and totally… ahem… in pieces. This car stood in a shed in the USA for a number of decades. These were the last Rolls-Royces produced during the time that Henry Royce was part of the design and development team. Look here, these are hydraulic jacks. When you have a flat tyre, you pull a lever and the car raises itself. The engine is basically a smaller version of the Merlin engine that powered the Spitfire.
“Each cylinder has two spark plugs, so 24 in total. Currently one of our problems is to find a capable aluminium welder because of the glut of aluminium parts it has.” He hands me a rear bumper to feel how light it is – it seems insubstantial compared with the steel body parts from cars of the same era. As with a number of the cars in the collection, he found the Phantom III on the internet in 2005. Remarkably, the interior wool trim is perfectly original.
We walk outside and I can’t help but move towards the military vehicles – I’ve never met someone who owns such things. This Alvis Saracen troop carrier was used until the early '90s by the South African Army and police force. There is a good reason why these vehicles are stationed here: “They are fitted with B80 straight-eight Rolls-Royce engines from the '50s, similar to those fitted in the Phantom IV. The latter was very rare – only 18 were produced. My father found these troop carriers when he heard that they were about to be decommissioned. Fortunately we are able to buy them before they were sent to the scrapyard, because these engines are exceedingly rare. This particular one we’ll restore as a complete vehicle because we want to drive it again… we’re currently overhauling its carburettors.”
As I climb on top of the vehicle I wonder what it would be like to drive it through normal traffic. But there’s more to see, so we head through the graveyard to a smaller building. I don’t know what to expect, but he tells me confidently, “I’ve kept the best for last.” As he opens the doors, a small collection of some of the most sought-after modern-classic BMWs comes into view.
1995 BMW 850CSi
“The 850CSi was essentially an M8. This car’s engine number starts with an S, like all other M-cars’ engine codes. For this model, the V12 engine was enlarged to 5.6L. And this car is a unique Individual-spec model with Orient Blue exterior paint and buffalo interior leather. It was originally sold in the UK before being imported to South Africa.
1986 E30 BMW 333i
Another South African special is the E30 333i (also see main image of article). “The left-hand-drive E30 M3 was never homologated and imported for the South African market. So BMW SA developed and built its own interpretation, powered by the 3.3L straight-six from a 7 Series. It’s one of only 210 produced. I bought it when I was working at BMW in 1993. At the time it had 14 000km on the odo. A few years later, I sold it with only 15 000km showing. I tracked down the new owner years later and bought it back with 88 000km on the clock. Before I did any work on it I drove it further than I did when I owned it the first time. Part of that was driving the 600km from here to Tzaneen and back via the wonderful Magoebaskloof Pass.
“Because the previous owner drove the car so often, and I’ve used it liberally, several of the panels were chipped. I had the nose and mirrors resprayed, the headlamps replaced, fitted the correct tyres and replaced the windscreen. I spent a huge sum of money on it, but here she is, looking beautiful. The result is, that for me, this is now more than just a rare 333i.
“I’ve driven an E30 M3, but I prefer our local version. This 333i is actually in some way not BMW-ish, because it runs out of breath past 5 000 r/min. It is also heavier than the E30 M3 and very tail-happy. At the time you could specify power steering or air-conditioning, but you couldn’t have both. This one is fitted with aircon, which I prefer because I like the unassisted steering. I ordered a new Alpina exhaust system, and to my surprise it arrived here, safely in South Africa, in one piece – from the manifold to the outlets.”
I could easily spend few hours exploring this collection, and listening to the abundance of anecdotes and snippets of motoring history he has to share. Clearly, this is an evolving collection, with each respective project requiring restoration and/or management on an individual basis. He admits more cars find a home here than leave the premises.
1983 E23 BMW 745i
“Until recently, if you’d have asked me what was my most treasured, or certainty irreplaceable, car in my collection, it would have been this E23 745i. Not only were these cars unique to South Africa, fitted with the M1’s 3.5L straight-six and costing more than a Ferrari 308 when new, but this one has a unique story of its own to tell.”
He opens the boot and takes out the model’s sales brochure, whose pages feature the very same car parked in front of us. That’s not all – this is a pre-production unit, the first to be manufactured, and it once belonged to former Volkswagen AG chairman Dr Bernd Pischetsrieder, who was head of BMW SA at the time. He was directly involved in the development of this model.
This is also one of only 14 manual E23 745i cars, including a number of race cars. “The late, renowned BMW driver Tony Viana raced these cars across South Africa, in the process creating a distinctive piece of local history. This was one of the cars that I never intended to sell, especially because it is such a uniquely South African car. However, when the BMW Museum in Münich showed interest in it, I thought that there is probably no better place for the car to spend the rest of its life. I know it will be maintained and preserved there and that the car will also be appreciated by each visitor to the museum. Hopefully it will educate them about BMW South Africa’s colourful history for a long time to come.”
Fortunately for this collector, his collection also includes an automatic example of the E23 745i that he enjoys driving very regularly.